by Sam Cohen

Tal Rozow was apologetic. He sent a text saying he was going to be a little late for our ride. Fifteen minutes wasn’t a big deal after I had travelled more than 9,000 km. I had ridden in desert before, but never in Israel, never surrounded by goats and Bedouin and most certainly never in the West Bank. When travelling from Jerusalem to the Dead Sea, as most tourists to the Holy Land do, I was struck by the miles and miles of desert. It is covered in tracks from donkeys and goats. Human trails have been built up throughout centuries. My plan was to ride the historic trading route known as the Sugar Trail, which has been taken over by the mountain bike community. It descends roughly 1,000 m from the height of an Israeli hilltop settlement of approximately 10 houses called Kedar to the lowest spot on Earth. As I waited for Rozow and Johan Hjord of the Sababike tour company, I explored the perimeter of this settlement. I had time to wonder: who could these Israeli mountain bike guys be?

Rozow arrived with a YT Jeffsy 29er with 140 mm of travel for me. I guessed I’d need that mount of squish for the terrain we’d cover. The ride started out with a fairly long climb, which wasn’t what I expected. I thought we’d just be descending. After 20 minutes, we hit the trail’s high point. I could look east over the Dead Sea and the empty desert between us and the water. Jerusalem was to the west, Bethlehem to the south and some lesser-known towns in between. While we stopped to catch our breath, Rozow explained some of the local history while Hjord, who doubles as a product reviewer at Vital MTB, took photos of the Fox’s latest Factory 36 fork. Then we were off. The initial descent was reasonably steep and had a section that all three of us walked. A minor error here you could send you down a big cliff. Afterwards, everything was ridable. I was stoked to have the RockShox Reverb dropper post, although both Rozow and Hjord felt I didn’t use it enough.

It can be easy to lose your way on the many desert trails. We passed Bedouins and their sheep and goats that we’d a seen from the trail’s high point. On the descent, there where drops. None of them were very big, only sending me down a few feet. While long, rough sections tested the 140 mm of travel, it was always enough. There was some wild cornering on kitty litter and some small berms. This riding was positively flowy and fun. The scenery was awe inspiring, although at one point I joked with the pony-tailed Hjord, that this was “godforsaken country.” After all, it is a massive desert with a large body of undrinkable water. But, of course, for those religiously inclined, this is the most spiritual of all landscapes.

The ride took about three hours with a few fuel breaks and mandatory shredding-photo stops. We finished a mile or so from the Dead Sea. From there, we were shuttled back to our cars outside of Kedar. On the shuttle back, Rozow explained how he got his start in the mountain biking world and came to run bike tours, skill instruction and a YT support company. He figured those things would be great ways to earn a living, so Sababike was born. (The name roughly translated to “cool bike.”) While this was my only ride, and an awesome one at that, Rozow explained that the mountain bike community in Israel was growing rapidly and that there are many great trails across the country. While the Sugar Trail was well-known and unique, you could also ride a variety of different routes across this small country. He also said that the sport had brought together people that are separated by the many division in this country. There is an active Palestinian mountain bike community. Rozow has been involved with joint Israel\Jewish\Palestinian rides. I wished I had had more time to see first-hand how the sport could be a great equalizer. It was nice to imagine that people getting past their differences to get out and ride.

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If you are planning a trip to Holy Land, hook up with Rozow and Hjord. The skilled riders will get you to the trailhead and back to the car safely. The ride was one of the more memorable of my life.


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